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School segregation has been a 25-year catastrophe for Minnesota's children.

In the 21st century, at least 100,000 Black and brown schoolchildren in the Twin Cities have been deprived of the chance to attend integrated schools because the state's school integration policy was gutted in 1999. Segregation could have been avoided here as it was avoided in Portland and Seattle, places with similar school demographics.

These segregated schools ruined children's educational and economic opportunities. They achieved much less academically. Because of this segregation, many more dropped out. Many fewer went to colleges. Those that did were disproportionately likely to enroll in less rigorous institutions, like for-profit community colleges. Because of this segregation, they earned lower incomes as adults. They were more likely to end up in jail. Their health was worse. In the end, these 100,000 are much more likely than their peers to emerge as the most economically disadvantaged members of society — whereupon the cycle will likely repeat with their own children.

The price of allowing segregation to grow unchecked has been our state's greatest shame. Minnesota has developed some of the nation's largest racial gaps. When schools were integrated, the state and metro had relatively small achievement gaps. But after a quarter-century of segregation, that is no longer true. Recent data from Stanford University shows that the Twin Cities has the third largest Black-white achievement gap (behind only Oakland and Cleveland), and fourth largest Latino-white achievement gap (behind San Jose, Philadelphia and Oakland). As segregation grows, it gets worse. Because of this school segregation, accompanied by growing residential segregation, Minnesota has some of the worst racial gaps in health, wealth, employment and incarceration.

We know that segregation is vastly worse here than in peer cities with a similar mix of poor and nonwhite students. The Twin Cities has 182 deeply segregated schools where more than 90% of students are nonwhite. The Portland metro has one deeply impoverished segregated school; the much larger Seattle metro has only 40.

We also know that opportunities in segregated schools are greatly reduced. The best-performing high schools in the Twin Cities send two-thirds of their students to a four-year college and many more to a community college or trade school, according to a recent study from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. In segregated schools, only 11% go to four-year colleges, with almost half the student population failing to graduate after four years. We know that gaps like these do not reflect any intrinsic lack of ability on behalf of students, but the effects of concentrated disadvantage, and their isolation in social networks in which opportunities are few and far between.

Twin Cities school segregation is at its very worst in the large and growing charter school sector. One recent study showed that of the 50 most segregated schools in the area, 45 are charters. Charter schools often market themselves as segregated — "culturally affirming," in their Orwellian terminology — but fail to provide the results promised with academic performance and college attendance rates that lag even segregated traditional schools.

How did things get so bad? Minnesota leaders listened to the wrong voices. Instead of heeding the warnings of scholars and civil rights advocates, leaders followed the advice of political mandarins, who whispered that racial disparities could be solved without touching the "divisive" question of integration. These mandarins of segregation helped develop "reforms" that could theoretically circumvent the issue. Even charter schools were a Minnesota creation, developed by third way policy theorists in this state and first implemented here.

These segregated charters were celebrated for years as an unqualified success. Highly promoted charter hero Eric Mahmoud paid himself and his family nearly a half-million dollars a year while operating a chain of North Side charters, including his flagship school Harvest Preparatory Academy. CNN invited him on air to talk about his experience, and he argued that integration was not so important and his single-race Black charter schools were a better answer. Almost all the other single-race charters had terrible scores from the day they opened. Twenty of the 30 lowest opportunity high schools in the Twin Cities are charters. Moreover, Mahmoud's schools — like virtually all the cherry-picked, heavily promoted, "beat the odds" charters — did not sustain the supposed gains. In 2011, Mahmoud's schools achieved a math proficiency of 77% in reading and 82% in math. Those scores cratered in 2015. Best Academy's reading proficiency is now 34%, and its math proficiency is 22%. Rather than securing durable gains, these schools have begun to look more and more like the highly troubled segregated schools they were intended to replace, and with added instability from continuous school closures and restructurings.

The mandarins of segregation have even exhibited influence in the highest circles of Minnesota policymaking. In 1998, facing a tight race for Minnesota governor, the Democratic attorney general gutted a rule that would have required effective school integration. The advisers and bureaucrats who wrote the alternative, weaker rule continued on to serve as charter school consultants and leaders of local philanthropy.

Yet voices like these have consistently been trusted to guide education policy in Minnesota. The cost of this error has landed on the whole region as our once-proud education system now appears to come apart at the seams. Intensifying segregation and poverty in the central cities and older suburbs have left many parents fleeing for further out, whiter suburban schools while huge deficits open on district budgets. Without remedying segregation, this cycle of decline is almost impossible to stop. And yet the very people who argued that segregation was no problem — or even necessary for education — now argue that segregation is too severe to be remedied directly. The charter schools even intervened in a statewide school desegregation lawsuit, taking the position that it should be dismissed, or at the very least, they should be exempted from civil rights rules.

But the heaviest toll is on the children themselves. The lost 100,000, whose futures have been dimmed or broken because we didn't have the courage to confront and fix a problem we've known about for decades. Unless we change course now, we risk consigning another 100,000 children, or more, to decades of second-class citizenship.

Myron Orfield is the Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the University of Minnesota Law School. He is also the director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity.